Break out your binoculars. Saturday, May 10 is International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), and the Moab Bird Club will be celebrating with guided bird-watching walks at The Nature Conservancy’s Matheson Wetlands Preserve from 8 a.m. to noon.
“If people are interested in learning how to bird, this is a good opportunity,” said Marian Eason of the Moab Bird Club. “Some of our group really know the songs, so they can pick out what the bird is, even if you don’t see it.”
IMBD was started in 1993 by an organization that is now known as Environment for the Americas, to foster bird conservation education. A day of celebrating bird migration is hosted at more than 600 locations from Canada to Argentina—although the date and season varies according to actual migration times—spring for the northern Americas and fall for the southern part of the continent.
Last spring, the Moab Bird Club, assisted by The Nature Conservancy and the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, revived an annual tradition of a spring bird-census in celebration of the IMBD.
“[Birders] have been doing a Christmas count for a long time here in Moab,” local birder Kay McLean said. “It’s much nicer being out in May rather than winter. We started this just thinking it would be a fun tradition.”
Last spring, birders recorded 304 individual birds of 45 different species, McLean said. Most of the birds are coming from South and Central America, making their way north to Canada, Alaska, or the Boreal Forest, a swath of coniferous trees that crosses North America.
Among the birds that stop over for a rest in Moab are shore-birds, like sand-pipers and Wilson’s Phalarope, which birders have already reported seeing at Ken’s Lake.
The female Phalarope, which does the courting, is more colorful than the male. Those interested in spotting one should look for a slender bird with a small head and thin, pointed bill.
According to the Audubon website, “breeding females are quite colorful, with a gray cap, white eyebrow, and dark crimson mask that extends from the bill to the back of the head and then swoops down the nape toward the back.” These birds are known for whirling in circles as they feed.
Some of the birds migrating into this area will stay put for the summer, like the yellow-breasted chat, black-headed grosbeaks, or spotted-towhee.
“I like seeing the spotted-towhee,” McLean said. “The towhee rustles around in the leaves looking for bugs. It’s black and white and brown and it says ‘drink-your-tea, drink-your-tea.’”
There are less common birds coming to visit, as well, that birders might get a chance to see if luck is on their side. Seeing a streak of vibrant blue may lead one’s eye to the rarer blue-grosbeak. If you catch sight of such a bird, look also for a large silver bill and chestnut wingbar.
Or, “if you’re really lucky,” local birder and organizer of the Christmas bird count, Marcy Hafner said, one may see an osprey, a type of North American raptor that feeds on live fish, diving into the water with talons stretched out before them.
Among the highlights of what one may get a rare chance to see is a family of sandhill cranes.
“We’ve had our own little family of sandhill cranes,” Eason said. “They’re down in the preserve where they nest. This is the fourth year that they’ve nested here, that we know of.”
The IMBD count records migratory, summer, and resident birds. McLean gives the data from the spring count to eBird, an online checklist program started in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. This information contributes to a biodiversity data resource bank that is shared with scientists, educators and others around the world, the website states.
“Like the Christmas count, this is a crucial tool in bird study,” McLean said. “Birds are critical indicators of the environmental health upon which we all depend, as well as being economically important and a priceless part of America’s natural heritage.”
Annual bird count takes place this weekend
“Like the Christmas count, this is a crucial tool in bird study. Birds are critical indicators of the environmental health upon which we all depend, as well as being economically important and a priceless part of America’s natural heritage.”